I recently had the opportunity to take part in a two-day professional development session with the Children’s Museum Makeshop in collaboration with Kickstarter. Here there were a variety of different of teachers and administrators who had varying levels of experience with making in education. The commonality: all teachers and administrators wanted to incorporate making into their instruction in a more meaningful way.
Led by Teresa DeFlitch, we were engaged in a take-apart activity. In this activity, we were to take apart an everyday item. Our team selected a children’s toy. During this process, I was reminded of what drew me to making in the first place: the awakening of a curiosity for how things work.
While I was working to find creative ways to use the tools to take this item apart, I was sent into a flashback. My mind drifted to the time that had fostered this curiosity and determination to know why and how things worked. While I was a kid growing up, my father would constantly bring home stuff (what most people would call junk). He would challenge us to use our imaginations in the creation of new things. Sometimes he brought random pieces of foam that we used to construct forts in the basement. Other times, it was an old computer that no longer worked. We would spend hours deconstructing these computers just to see what was inside. We would take pieces from each of the broken ones to create one viable computer. We would swap one comically sized 512 MB hard drive for another even larger 1 GB hard drive. The sizes of these hard drives were analogous to the forgotten Zack Morris cell phone. We didn’t do this because we needed another computer in the house. In fact, I really wasn’t sure why we were doing any of it. I now realize that we did it to learn in a fun way and meaningful way. I developed a sense of curiosity and the skills to be able to fix things in non-traditional ways. A skill that I have carried with me well into my adult life. These skills are evidenced by the many makeshift fixes that exist throughout my house. The most recent one being my tricking the washing machine to think the door was closed even when it is not (it’s funny what you can do with a little duct tape and curiosity). The series of memories allowed me to come to the realization: making existed long before there was a movement in its name.
At the end of the session, we were asked to reflect on how the activity related to making. It reminded me that we all came to the making in a variety of ways. We each took a very different approach to making. Some were very advanced, wanting to fabricate stuff things using CNC machines, while others took a more simplistic approach. That, in many ways, is what is beautiful about the Maker Movement. There are so many different access points.
The Maker Movement and its formal involvement in mainstream education is still in its infancy, but it has been gaining a lot of traction within the educational community. Here are some reasons that the Maker Movement should be here to stay:
Inspiring Students to Discover/ Explore Their Passions
Many of our students do not have the same access to opportunities such as mine. They have not been exposed to the spectrum of things that can be created with a little curiosity and some duct tape. We must work as educators to meet the students where they are at and build upon the strengths and skills that are already innate within them. Exposing our students to a variety of different experiences through the use of authentic making experiences is one way to allow our students to both explore and pursue their passions.
Our students come to us with creativity and open minds that are so often times squelched by the testing-craze and the day-to-day workings of school. Traditional school models are generally directed at transferring information from teacher to student while meeting the expectations that are set up by the list of state-standards. These models allow for little creativity for teacher and student alike. By incorporating the essence of the making movement into our classroom models, we can add fuel to the already burning ember of creativity and passion. We can fan the flame rather than extinguishing it with traditional models that act to silence our students’ hope of being creators of information and materials.
Our students need to know that they are brilliant. We, as educators, have to create spaces to let their brilliance shine by honoring them as learners. The Maker Movement is one of the truest forms of allowing our students to be brilliant in our classroom spaces. Students are given the opportunity to explore passions and interests, determine which avenues best suit them and push forward as creators of their own knowledge and materials.
Too often times, education movements tell our students that they can be great, they can be brilliant, but they need to wait until they graduate college until they can do so. Don’t we want our students to know that they too can be brilliant now? The question that the maker movement addresses: what do you want to do with your brilliance today?
Increasing Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Skills
As educators, we all push the idea that we want our students to be critical thinkers and problems solvers. These are the buzzwords that are painted into so many of our school’s mission statements. How many times do we, as teachers and administrators, take a deeper look to see if what we teach in our schools actually honors these values? I would argue that for many schools, this mission statement is just that: a statement that does not actually make its way into what we teach and do in our classroom spaces. We must take a deeper look into what we say we value and analyze the truth of what is actually being valued in our spaces.
How can we provide students with opportunities and experiences that allow them to become critical thinkers and problem solvers? This question is one that is on so many educational professional’s minds today. Maybe we should first look at how we came to being critical thinkers and problem solvers that we desire our students to be. For many of us, it was not done through the traditional structures that are inherent in the school systems today. We became better thinkers through engaging in our passions and having a strong desire to solve a problem that was related to these interests. We desired to create solutions to problems that arose through engaging in something that we really wanted to complete.
Do our schools create opportunities for our students to engage themselves these types of problems? I would argue that many schools do not. So many of our students do not have opportunities to engage in these types of problems at home. They are all-encompassed by the hyper digital age of problems that are solved instantaneously and answers to questions are given at the click of a button. If we have not created spaces for our students to engage in difficult problems that they truly want to solve, how can we expect them to become critical thinkers and problem solvers?
The Maker Movement advocates for providing students the opportunity engage in their passions. Through the creation of making experiences that are connected to our desired educational outcomes, we can provide our students the opportunity to explore their passions and allow their brilliance to shine. We can create spaces where our students have a stake in the outcome and will therefore want to explore the multiple avenues that are necessary to solve a problem or create an end product that is worth sharing. How likely are our students to want to solve a difficult problem, if they don’t first have a stake in the outcome? Through the use of the tenets of ‘maker mindset’ we can allow our students to become more persistent problem solvers and driven critical thinkers.
Unleashing the Power of Creativity
When students first enter our schools, they are blessed with the gift of curiosity, the desire to be creative and explore their imaginations. I have had conversations with many educators who ask the question: What happens to the creativity of our students once they reach middle school? Each year it seems that our students become a little less imaginative and creative in the classroom space. Too many times, our schools point to the fact that this is a natural trajectory that just happens as students get older and more mature. Although some part of this can be attributed to maturing students, I do not believe that we are seeing the entire picture. Shouldn’t our students’ curiosity and creativity only become more focused and intense with each passing school year?
Lately, our school systems have been bogged down by the rage to get our students to become proficient on the many different state test that are required of them. Teachers scramble to get the standards covered before the tests happens. Because of this, there is little space or time for anything other than straightforward ways to solving problems. Our students are very seldom allowed the opportunity to explore content on any more than a cursory level. Students are rarely even allowed the opportunity to do something as simple as finding a creative solution to a math problem let alone be creators of their own information and materials.
And yet, teachers across the nation are still left to wonder why our students lose that passion and creativity throughout their school experience. We should have to look no further than the systems within our institution. The same systems that have the tendency of extinguishing rather than fueling our students’ curiosity and creativity. So I am left to wonder: How can our schools work to create spaces in which our students can further their creative nature while honoring the need to cover a prescribed set of content skills? I will explore this question further in future blog post, but I think making is a good place to start.
In its essence, the Maker Movement has established tenets that can allow students opportunities to have their brilliance shine within classroom spaces. When I think about what making meant to me while I was growing up and even now, I see the variety of skills that I was taught that don’t often show up in traditional classroom spaces.
The Maker Movement is far-reaching. There are a variety of avenues in which someone can become a maker. As with things that have a variety of access points, students can find their niche within the movement. When I was younger, I was allowed the opportunity to have experiences in which I could build and explore my imagination. Shouldn’t we want the same types of experiences for our young learners? I know I sure do.
There is an inherent draw in the creation of knowledge and materials. Most of us have had the experience of being extremely driven to complete something or to solve a problem. The information and tools that we pick up along the way are invaluable and something that has likely stuck with us for a lifetime. We want students to learn and retain information and skills. One of the ways that we can do this is through the use of making in which students are engaged in authentic learning experiences that build both the intended content knowledge and unintended skills that are picked up along the way. Creation holds a lot of value, whether it be the final product that we created or the learning that goes on throughout the process of creation. Although the Maker Movement may not be the answer to all of our educational troubles, I can think of a lot of reasons that it should be a part of it.